THE EVILS WROUGHT IN DAILY LIFE AND IN THE FRANCHISE1
The method of reconstruction resorted to by Congress occasioned dreadful evils. It ignored the natural prejudices of the whites, many of whom were as loyal as any citizens in the land. To most people in that section, as well as to very many at the North, this dictation by Congress to acknowledged States in time of peace seemed high-handed usurpation. If Congress can do this, it was said, any State can be forced to change its constitution on account of any act which Congress dislikes. This did not necessarily follow, as reconstruction invariably presupposed an abnormal condition, viz., the State's emersion from a rebellion which had involved the State government, whose overthrow, with the rebellion, necessitated Congressional interference. Yet the inference was natural and widely drawn.
Salmon P. Chase in a letter to the Democratic National Committee, in 1873 said: "Congress was wrong in the exclusion from suffrage of certain classes of citizens, and of all unable to take a prescribed retrospective oath, and wrong also in the establishment of arbitrary military governments for the States, and in authorizing military commissions for the trial of civilians in time of peace. There should have been as little military government as possible; no military commissions, no classes excluded from suffrage, and no oath except one of faithful obedience and support to the Constitution and laws, and sincere attachment to the constitutional government of the United States."
John Sherman in his "Recollections" says: "It is a question of grave doubt whether the Fifteenth Amendment, tho right in principle, was wise or expedient. The declared object was to secure impartial suffrage to the negro race. The practical result has been that the wise provisions of the Fourteenth Amendment have been modified by the Fifteenth Amendment. The latter amendment has been practicaly nullifled by the action of most of the States where the great body of this race live and will probably always remain. This is done not by an express denial to them of the right of suffrage, but by ingenious provisions, which exclude them on the alleged ground of ignorance, while permitting all of the white race, however ignorant to vote at all elections. No way is pointed out by which Congress can enforce this amendment.
"If the principle of the Fourteenth Amendment had remained in full force, Congress could have reduced the representation of any State, in the proportion which the number of the male inhabitants of such State, denied the right of suffrage, might bear to the whole number of male citizens twenty-one years of age, in such State. This simple remedy, easily enforced by Congress, would have secured the right of all persons, without distinction of race or color, to vote at all elections. The reduction of the representation would have deterred every State from excluding the vote of any portion of the male population above twenty-one years of age. As the result of the Fifteenth Amendment, the political power of the States lately in rebellion has been increased, while the population conferring this increase is practically denied all political power. I see no remdy for this wrong, except the growing intelligence of the negro race."
If the South was to become again genuine part and parcel of this Union, it would not, nor would the North consent that it should, remain permanently under military government. Black legislatures abused their power, becoming instruments of carpet-bag leaders and rings in robbing white property-holders. Only doctrinaries or the stupid could have expected that the whites would long submit. So soon as Federal bayonets were gone, fair means or foul were certain to remove the scepter from colored hands. Precisely this happened. Without the slightest formal change of constitution or of statute the Southern States one by one passed into the control of their white inhabitants.
Where white men's aims could not be realized by persuasion or other mild means, resort was had to intimidation and force. The chief instrumentality at first used for keeping colored voters from the polls was the Ku-Klux Klan, a secret society organized in Tennessee in 1866. It sprung from the old night patrol of slavery times. Then, every Southern gentleman used to serve on this patrol, whose duty it was to whip severely every negro found absent from home without a pass from his master. Its first post bellum work was not ill-meant, and its severities came on gradually. Its greatest activity was in Tennessee, Arkansas, and Mississippi, where its awful mysteries and gruesome rites spread utter panic among the superstitious blacks. Men visited negroes' huts and "mummicked" about, at first with sham magic, not with arms at all. One would carry a flesh bag in the shape of a heart and go around "hollering for fried nigger meat." Another would put on an India-rubber stomach to startle the negroes by swallowing pailfuls of water. Another represented that he had been killed at Manassas, since which time "some one had built a turnpike over his grave and he had to scratch like hl to get up through the gravel." The lodges were "dens," the members "ghouls," "giants," "goblins ," "titans," "furies," "dragons," and "hydras" were names of different classes among the officers.
Usually the mere existence of a "den" anywhere was sufficient to render docile every negro in the vicinity. If more was required, a half-dozen "ghouls" making their nocturnal rounds in their hideous masks and long white gowns, frightened all but the most hardy. Any who showed fight were whipt, maimed, or killed, treatment which was extended on occasion to their "carpet-bag" and "scalawag" friendsthese titles denoting respectively Northern and Southern men who took the negroes' side. The very violence of the order, which it at last turned against the old Southrons themselves, brought it into disrepute with its original instigators, who were not sorry when Federal marshals, put up to it by President Grant, hunted den after den of the law-breakers to the death.
In 1870 and 1871, by the so-called Force Bills, Federal judges were given cognizance of suits against any one for depriving another of rights, privileges, or immunities under the Constitution. Fine and imprisonment were made the penalties for "conspiracy" against the United States or the execution of its laws, as by forcibly or through intimidation preventing men from voting. The army and navy were placed at the service of the President to enforce the act, and Federal judges might exclude suspected persons from sitting on juries. By this drastic measure and its rigorous execution in nine counties of South Carolina the organization was by 1873 driven out of existence. But some of its methods survived. In 1875 several States adopted and successfully worked the "Mississippi plan," which was, by whatever necessary means, to nullify black votes until white majorities were assured. Less violent than the Ku-Klux way, this new one was equally thorough.
1 From Andrews's "History of the Last Quarter-Century of the United States." (1870-1895). By permission of the publishers, Charles Scribner's Sons. Copyright, 1895, 1896.
2 Chase had been United States Senator from Ohio, 18494-55; Governor of Ohio, 1856-60; Secretary of the Treasury, 1861-64; and Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, 1864-73.
3 Sherman, the brother of General William T. Sherman, was first elected to Congress from Ohio in 1855, and served afterward as United States Senator from that State, Secretary of the Treasury, and Secretary of State.
PHASES OF RECONSTRUCTION IN SOUTH CAROLINA
Let us look at our State when the reconstruction acts first took effect in 1868. A social revolution had been accomplishedan entire reversal of the political relations of most of our people had ensued. The class which formerly held all the political power of our State were stript of all.
The class which had formerly been less than citizens, with no political power or social position, were made the sole depositaries of the political power of the State. I refer now to practical results, not to theories. The numerical relations of the two races here were such that one race, under the new laws, held absolute political control of the State.
The attitude and action of both races under these new conditions, while not unnatural, was, as I must think, unwise and unfortunate. One race stood aloof and haughtily refused to seek the confidence of the race which was just entering on its new powers; while the other race quickly grasped all the political power which the new order, of things had placed within their reach.
From the nature of the case, the one race were devoid of political experience, of all or nearly all education, and depended mainly for all these qualities upon those who, for the most part, chanced to have drifted here from other States, or who, in very rare instances, being former residents of the State, now allied themselves with the other race. No man of common prudence, or who was even slightly familiar with the working of social forces, could have then failed to see that the elements which went to compose the now dominant party were not of the kind which produce public virtue and honor, or which could long secure even public order and peace.
I make all just allowance for exceptional cases of individual character, but I say that the result to be expected, from the very nature of the situation in 1868, was that a scramble for office would ensue among the members of the party in power, which, again, from the nature of the case, must result in filling the offices of the State, local and general, with men of no capacity and little honesty or desire to really serve the public.
The nation had approved the reconstruction measures, not because they seemed to be free of danger, nor because they were blind to the very grave possibilities of future evils, but in the hope that the one race, wearing its new laurels and using its new powers with modesty and forbearance, would gradually remove the prejudices and enlist the sympathies and cooperation of the other race, until a fair degree of political homogeneity should be reached, and race lines should cease to mark the limits of political parties.
Three years have passed and the result iswhat? Incompetency, dishonesty, corruption in all its forms, have "advanced their miscreated fronts," have put to flight the small remnant that opposed them, and now rules the party which rules the State.
You may imagine the chagrin with which I make this statement. Truth alone compels it. My eyes see itall my senses testify to the startling and sad fact. I can never be indifferent to anything which touches the fair fame of that great national party to which all my deepest convictions attach me, and I repel the libel which the party bearing that name in this State is daily pouring upon us. I am a Republican by habit, by conviction, by association, but my republicanism is not, I trust, composed solely of equal parts of ignorance and rapacity.
Such is the plain statement of the present condition of the dominant party of our State. What is the remedy? That a change will come, and come speedily, let no man doubt. Corruption breeds its own kind. Ignorance rushes to its downfall. Close behind any political party which tolerates such qualities in its public representatives stalks the headsman. If the result is merely political disruption let us be profoundly thankful. Let us make haste to prevent it from being social disruptionthe sundering of all the bonds which make society and government possible.
1From a letter written by Mr. Chamberlain in 1871. He was a Northern man, born and reared in Massachusetts, and had served in the Union Army during the Civil War. In 1866 he settled in South Carolina, where he became a cotton planter. From 1868 to 1872 he was Attorney-General of the State. The letter here given was written while he was Attorney-General. Two years later he was chosen Governor after the State had for years suffered from incompetent, disorganized, and extravagant government, dominated by negro suffrage.
THE CELEBRATION OF THE FIRST CENTENARY